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This initiative will play an increasing role in our food-secure future, and it will require a diverse community of agriculture and forestry actors to realize its potential.
Co-Chairs, Dr. Vinesh Kumar, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fiji, and Mrs Atelaite Rokosuka, acting Permanent Secretary for Forestry, Fiji Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry; Sefanaia Nawadra, Director General of the Pacific Regional Environment Program; Ms. Xiangjun (ZHiang Zhun) Yao, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Subregional Coordinator for the Pacific Islands, and esteemed partners, Bula Vinaka, bonjour, talofa and welcome to the 8th Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry meeting.
It's good to see you all in person this time after our virtual meeting in 2021. This week has already been very full of a wide variety of side events that capture the range, challenges and forward momentum of the agriculture and forestry sectors in the Pacific. I trust today we can build on this shared knowledge and progress to realize this week’s theme: transforming Pacific Agriculture and Forestry.
Your active engagement is the key to this transformation. Today we will discuss some of the region’s biggest challenges, and the way agriculture and forestry can address them.
Before continuing I want to remember our colleagues and the people of Vanuatu, members of our Pacific family, who are now finding their way to recovery from tropical cyclones Judy and Kevin. I have spoken with the Director of Agriculture; they are focusing on assessments and immediate response and the Government has reached out to the Pacific Community (SPC) for assistance with Post Disaster Needs Assessments. He estimates 70% of crop and livestock damage in some areas. I’m sure you all join me in prayers for their recovery as we wait to better understand how to be of the best assistance.
This weather event demonstrates that the Climate emergency is of course our most immediate challenge. On today’s agenda is an update on the UNFCCC COP 27 outcome on the joint work on the implementation of climate action in agriculture. During the week we have also discussed climate change in the context of pandemics and natural resource security.
Resilience and climate action is the first key focus area of the SPC Strategic Plan 2022 to 2031, and here it is not only the Land Resources Division supporting your climate actions but the whole of SPC. Our researchers and technical teams are providing robust science to the Pacific to address climate effects on agriculture and forestry and informing the technical networks we facilitate that share data and information and build capacity that is vital to building effective responses.
We have the opportunity to see a visualization of SPC’s scientific capability in the next room:
A 3D climate change model built by our Geosciences, Engineering and Marine Division. The model is an example of SPC as a whole collaborating and providing valuable science and knowledge relevant to the agriculture and forestry sectors. The model depicts sea level rise on low-lying island communities – a major threat to farmland, local food systems and freshwater supplies that are indispensable to farmers and coastal communities. We will have the opportunity to view a presentation of the model during the agenda this morning.
Resilient and regenerative food systems address our climate and sustainability challenges, as well as provide good nutrition for healthy communities – and as you all know, we struggle with the triple burden of malnutrition in our islands. We need a diverse system centred on both blue and green, economies that is sustainable from genetics to the soil, to the biodiversity of our crops, fish and livestock, to harvesting, packaging, transporting, selling and ultimately consuming food: a holistic system that provides, and promotes, good nutrition for all, while protecting and restoring our environment.
Pacific Food Systems is an SPC flagship initiative and we are calling on expertise across all our Divisions and taking action in six areas to advance national food systems pathways and strengthen the Pacific food system overall: science for nutritious and resilient food production, healthy and equitable food environments, critical public goods, innovation in coastal and atoll food systems, future food capacities and harnessing digital technologies.
The flagship calls on SPCs core capabilities in statistics, agriculture, forestry fisheries and public health and connects cutting-edge initiatives across SPC, including the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS), the Pacific Data Hub, and Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT). All these are key regional public goods and centres of expertise, and we will leverage interdisciplinary ways of working that enhance SPC’s impact on our members.
Science and technology are vital to transforming our agriculture and forestry sectors. Examples of our work in this area include research on climate-resilient varieties of our important staple crops, we also have a program of work soon to start where we are working to understand and then address excessive salination in swamp taro pits, we are undertaking biocontrol development, trialling of agroecological methods in addition to many more. And of course, when I say science, I also mean traditional science and knowledge – it is essential in all we do that we are informed by traditional knowledge and practice and call on the proven practices of Pacific people.
Capacity building and skills and knowledge transfer are also critical to transformation, and our ongoing programmes such as Paravet, and Plant and Soil Doctors, capacity building in surveillance to combat pests and diseases contribute to this transformation.
Of course, economic development is also critical to our islands, and we complement our scientific work with support to value chain development, market certifications such as organic, and compliance with biosecurity pathways for market access.
We also recognize that science and technology and capacity building is applied in a community context – and so people-centred approaches, culture, social inclusion, and gender equality also underpin our work.
It is this whole system approach that is helping us to build the circular green economies of the future that are key to the region’s sustainable development and resilience.
Of course, we can’t do any of this without the collaboration of our development partners and many of you are in the room – we thank you for the engagement and support and the spirit in which you work with us.
The Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services (HOAFS) meeting is evolving and we, SPC, re-emphasize our commitment to grow and make more effective our collaboration with your Ministries and government departments, supporting your forward steps, both large and small.
Those of you who have participated in HOAFS meetings in the past will see a marked difference in the agenda and how the meeting is delivered. This year, the agenda came from you, and the papers presented are a response to your direction and developed largely with you through various processes during the past year. SPC is “your organisation “and we are here to serve your agenda. We will also be learning, with FAO, through this new meeting format and looking for ways to continually improve so these meetings are of high value to you.
Today’s agenda provides for updates on important regional public goods, it also ensures that the technical networks of the region facilitated by SPC are well connected to you so you can collectively guide their work. I trust that you will provide generous substantive input. Your ministries drive the agriculture and forestry discussion, and action, in the region, and this is your meeting. Its outcomes can support your objectives for the remainder of the year and beyond, and will provide further guidance and direction to SPC on our services to you and assist your development partners to coordinate and collaborate more effectively.
While SPC works to strengthen the delivery of the Pacific’s regional public goods and contribute to enhancing our farms, forests, crops, livestock, and markets – you are their custodian, and we look to your strategic leadership and direction.
You and your ministries, your collective knowledge and experience, are the cornerstone….not only of our Blue and Green Pacific food system, but also our climate change response, the application of better science and leading-edge technology, and the agriculture and forestry sectors' contribution to our leaders' vision as expressed in the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent for a resilient Pacific Region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity that ensures all Pacific people can lead-free, healthy, and productive lives.”
As you progress toward transforming Pacific Agriculture and Forestry at home, we will continue providing you with the best science, technology, knowledge, and support. We look forward to continuing this journey together and amplifying our collaborative efforts.
So, I thank you for your participation and engagement, and I wish you a productive and useful discussion.